Thursday, August 29, 2013

Why you should join the BATS, A Recruiting Pitch

By Dr. Mark Naison
Fed up with testing? With invasive assessments that undermine your professional integrity? With professional development workshops where trainers spout jargon rather than give useful advice about how to help your students? With people who have never spent a day in the classroom shaping education policy and excluding your voice?

Then you might consider joining an organization where teachers who say “enough is enough” band together and support one another.

It’s called “The Badass Teachers Association, ” aka the BATS, and it is designed to bring together teachers across the country determined to take back their profession and make sure their voice is heard by those in power.

It is also the fastest growing teachers organization in the country, with nearly 26,000 teachers on its Facebook page, and with BAT organizations active in every state.

If you join us, you can take part in actions ranging from mass emails and tweets to marches and demonstrations, aimed at the elected and self- appointed leaders who are destroying our public schools and driving the best teachers out of the profession.

And if you agree with our basic principles- opposition to excessive testing; to test based teacher evaluations, to forced imposition of the Common Core Standards, to using Teach for America as replacement labor for veteran teachers—you don’t have to meet a political litmus test.

We are a non- partisan/ multi-partisan organization. You can be a Republican, a Democrat, an independent, a conservative, a liberal, a leftist or none of the above, - so long as you are willing to fight for the rights of teachers, not only in your school or your district but all across the nation- you are welcome in BATS.

And you can have fun too. The BAT name, and the innovative ways we have of getting it across- check out our great tee shirts- is capturing the attention of teachers around the country and is making those setting education policy very nervous.

The last thing the Ed Deformers want is a group of teachers who can’t be bought, can’t be intimidated, and are organized to fight.

That is who we are. Join us.

* Facebook "Group" (closed) 26,000 members! -

Other links for BTA

 * Facebook " Fan Page" (open) -

 * Twitter - @BadassTeachersA #badassteachers

 * YouTube channel -


Friday, May 31, 2013

Unsafe environment equals denial of FAPE for kids with Labels

     From the Special Education Law Blog:

In the seminal decision by the Third Circuit in Shore Regional High Sch. Bd. of Educ. v. P.S. 381 F.3d 194, 41 IDELR 234 (3d Cir. 8/30/2004) recognized that bullying could prevent educational benefit, and a school district’s failure to respond could constitute a denial of FAPE.
Shortly, thereafter the Second Circuit ruled that a student with a disability cannot receive educational benefit or FAPE if he is not in a safe environment.

     What I am wondering is whether children with labels are being denied FAPE if their teacher is not in a safe environment. Students who witness a teacher being being harassed and threatened on a daily basis might very well feel unsafe themselves.
     I wonder how many of my former students felt it was somehow their fault that I spent so much time in the principal's office.
     Teachers have no civil rights; I found that out the hard way. But what about the children? What educational benefit can they receive while a teacher is attacked before their very eyes?
    My students learned that people with disabilities and those who dare to stand up for them are targets for bullies. I'm having a really hard time seeing the educational benefit in that lesson.


Monday, May 27, 2013

Mr. Magg "can no longer cooperate" with testing regime


Ron Maggiano (Photo by Calvin Wilder)

The following is reprinted from The Answer Sheet by Valerie Strauss.

 Ron Maggiano is a social studies teacher at West Springfield High School in Fairfax County. In 2005, he won the Disney Teacher Award for innovation and creativity, and in 2006, he won the American Historical Association’s Beveridge Family Teaching Prize for outstanding K-12 teaching. Now, after a 33-year teaching career, he is resigning, just four years away from full retirement.
Why? He’s had enough of the high-stakes testing obsession that he believes has undermined public education. He told the school’s student newspaper, The Oracle:

I don’t think I’m leaving the education system. I think the education system left me.

Here’s part of an e-mail he sent to me, and following that is the The Oracle’s article on him.

From Maggiano:

I have taught history at West Springfield High School for the past 19 years. I have been a successful classroom teacher for more than thirty years, but now I have had enough. As a result of the obsessive emphasis on standardized test scores in FCPS and across the educational landscape, I have decided to retire at the end of the current academic year. I have made this decision, because I can no longer cooperate with a testing regime that I believe is suffocating creativity and innovation in the classroom. We are not really educating our students anymore. We are merely teaching them to pass a test. This is wrong. Period.

As for myself, I won the Disney Teacher Award for innovation and creativity in education in 2005 and the American Historical Association’s Beveridge Family Teaching Prize for outstanding K-12 teaching in 2006. I am four years away from full retirement, so my decision to retire was not made lightly. It will cost me. Our school newspaper, The Oracle, just ran a story on my retirement and why I am leaving the classroom and the job that I love.

Here’s The Oracle article written by student Calvin Wilder, The Oracle’s online editor, and titled, “Mr. Magg! Man for the decades decides WS is history after this school year.”

From the fall of the Berlin Wall to the election of Barack Obama, Ronald Maggiano has been teaching history as it happened. And after 33 years of teaching, he’s decided this will be his last.

He said there were two main reasons for his decision to retire. The first one is that he feels he’s a good teacher now, and he doesn’t want to wait for that to change.

“I’ve been doing this job for over 30 years. I mean, when I started teaching, Jimmy Carter was president. I don’t want to be one of those teachers that should have retired five years ago,” said Maggiano.

But his motivation for retiring goes deeper than that. Maggiano feels that the education system is obsessed with test scores to the point that real, meaningful learning is suffocated. He wants to move on to new things rather than to continue to be a part of that system.

“I don’t think I’m leaving the education system. I think the education system left me,” said Maggiano.

Maggiano says that ever since SOLs were instituted to test students’ knowledge, schools have had less and less focus on creativity and innovation. Instead, teachers teach to the test, trying to achieve the highest scores possible.

“When I started teaching, the worst thing a teacher could do is teach to the test. Now, all we are doing is teaching to the test. From the first day of school to the final exam, that’s all we are doing,” said Maggiano.
No Child Left Behind and other programs that emphasized standardized tests increased this problem, according to Maggiano. The more the school system relies on standardized testing, he says, the more difficult it is for teachers to foster critical thinking and other useful skills.

“I strongly disagree with our obsession with test scores and data. I think it is killing education, destroying creativity, and discouraging any kind of innovation,” said Maggiano.

Maggiano doesn’t think kids aren’t learning anymore. In order to score well, students do have to learn something.

The problem, he says, is that that knowledge isn’t helping kids function in the real world.

“I think kids are learning a lot now, but they don’t know what to do with it. Life is not a multiple choice question, and the answer to life’s most important questions is not A, B, C or D,” said Maggiano.

Maggiano made it clear that this emphasis on standardized testing has nothing to do with WS or any people here. These issues, he says, are taking place across the country.

“It’s not just in this building; it’s not just in this school. It’s the direction I see the education system heading in the county, in the state, and in the nation,” said Maggiano.

Maggiano said he thought about retiring last year, but decided to give it more thought and continue at least another year. By the end of the first quarter, however, he knew he wanted to move on. He decided that the problems he sees in the education system aren’t likely to go away soon, and he felt that they were too severe for him to want to continue being a teacher.

“I just think it’s wrong. This isn’t teaching that we’re doing anymore. All we are doing is coaching kids to pass the test,” said Maggiano.

Maggiano has been teaching here for 19 years. Now that he’s leaving, he’s looking into working at a historical society, or in a museum as an education coordinator. Students have been sad to hear he is retiring from our school system.

“He was such a great teacher. He would go out of his way to help us, and he treats us like we’re his family,” said senior Nick Polo, a former student of Maggiano.

Maggiano says he sees returning to teaching as a possibility. However, he doesn’t plan to unless the issues he sees in the education system are fixed.

“I don’t really know [about returning to teaching]. The pendulum has swung too far… the testing pendulum. It’s gone too far and it’s going to take a long time for it to return to a fair and balanced approach to learning,” said Maggiano.

Maggiano started teaching right out of college, in the music department. However, after several years of teaching Band and Chorus, he decided to switch to teaching history. Since then, he’s taught courses on US, European, and world history, (and he’s enjoyed working with other great teachers in all those subjects). He has also actively participated in WS’s after-school clubs, working with Spartans for Christ, the Chess Club, and the Young Republicans club. Maggiano lives in Loudon and has a commute that is well over 2 hours round trip each day.

After all these years, he says there’s one thing that’s kept him coming back.

“The kids. This school has great kids,” said Maggiano.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Day Three...We Marched to the White House

2nd-grader Annie Peterson stands up for her teacher at the White House

Nancy Carlsson Paige
 Morna & Peggy, The Dynamic Duo
Barbara Mandeloni and I did NOT back down!


Me, CTU President Karen Lewis and Michelle Gunderson
Mark Naison and Sam Robertson
Nancy Letts and Karran Harper Royal

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Vocabulary 101

     1. Appropriate - may offend someone
Children with disabilities are guaranteed a Free Appropriate Public Education. Appropriateness is highly subjective and allows enough legal wiggle room for exclusion to exist.
     2. Structure - overused term in special education/ESOL classes to describe rigid adherence to programs forcing compliance.
     3. Cooperative and project-based learning - what the white and gifted kids get while the others are in structured classes
     4. Grit - new, magical ingredient that erases harm done by poverty and other outside factors
     5. Accountability - concept of blaming others instead of working with them
     6. Average - what most students/people used to be
     7. Failures - the new name for schools located in poor neighborhoods
     8. Charters - privately-owned schools that make up their own rules
     9. Confidentiality - mythical notion that student information is private
    10. Outcomes - new word used to replace "students" and "children" in feeble attempt to hide the casualties of test-driven reforms

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Be Your Own Child's Advocate

     I want to thank Jersey Jazzman for waking me up to some Speducational emergencies in New Jersey. His posts over the past two days have kept me up at night wondering how the world could have grown so cold to the cries of children.
     My response is the following list of things parents need to do to advocate for their children in school. These are just the basics.
If these babies could talk...Hey, they can!
     1. Buy recording devices and use them if you want to be treated respectfully during IEP meetings.
     2. Make all requests in writing, sent via email. Save electronic and hard copies of all correspondence with school employees.
     3. Ask for a copy of your child's student records and all copies of electronic correspondence in which your child's name/identifying information has been shared.
     4. Make all requests for or to opt your child out of testing in writing, sent via email.
     5. Insist your child spend as much time with his same-age peers as possible.
     6. Have face-to-face meetings with the other parents at your school, with no faculty members present. Bring food, offer to hostess..make it happen.
     7. Find out which adults spend the most time with your child during the course of the school day and how many of them are fully-certified teachers.
     8. If your child cannot clearly tell you what happens during his day, including the bus ride to/from school, find him a talkative buddy to give you the play-by-play.
     9. Trust only your insticts.
   10. Pray.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Wouldn't you like to know?

     Many parents of children with special needs have no IDEA what a valuable tool Emails can be in terms of advocating for their children. In her latest post, Out-of-the-Box Advocacy: Talk LD with Letters and Emails - NCLD Lyn Pollard says, "By far, the most effective advocacy tool for my two kids with disabilities is letter and Email writing."
     She describes the 4 Big E's of advocating for children via Emails:
  • Establish a direct communication channel outside of the confines of IEP and 504 meetings
  • Enhance accountability between the people who have been exposed to details about your child’s unique educational needs
  • Ease your ability to restate points made during IEP/504 meetings
    • For example, our dyslexic child is entitled to intensive, individualized dyslexia services on her school campus given by a qualified teacher using evidence-based, age-appropriate dyslexia curriculum according to Texas law. Based on my knowledge and research, I am able to clearly outline how and why in my emails.
  • Enable key decisions makers the opportunity to access resources, links, videos, books, etc. that you provide them information about.

     This Speducator believes the second Big E should be carved in stone and kept by parents' laptops for encouragement when exhaustion begins to set in after weeks, months or years of advocating for their children.
     Every message you send is a chance for someone to either listen or ignore you.
     When you are ignored, your plea is at least recorded electronically, along with the name of who chose not to respond. Those who respond with encouragement and understanding will likely do so via Emails, and hopefully, this will begin a positive chain of events that will benefit your child.
     There are some people, unfortunately, who will actively oppose your efforts by forming alliances and discussing your child in ways never meant to be shared in IEP meetings. The most common mistake made by technology dinosaurs is to document their own prejudices in Emails, accessible to parents who make a FERPA request.
     Young teachers who grew up with instant-messaging and Facebook wouldn't dare send Emails discussing other people's kids, but their bosses don't seem to know any better.
     What are they saying about your child?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Senator's office (lobby)

     Just a couple of years ago, we were running around five days a week like rats in a maze...always doing, doing and doing with no time to think. We were workers who delivered a product, scattering out information and hoping young minds snapped it up in time. No matter how many extra hours we worked, it would never, ever be enough.
     Yesterday, we hopped on the Metro and met with August Humphries at Sen. Mark Warner's office, or that's what was scheduled to happen. There was a mix-up with the timing, so we hung out in the lobby before being scooted through  an underground tunnel into the lunchroom. An empty table in front of the trash cans seemed to be waiting for our group. We advocated for our students amidst the clatter of tumbling trash.
     It was a Kodak moment.
     I'm not sure what significance the words we said and papers we delivered to Sen. Warner's aide have, if any, in the bigger picture of how society views the person who pulls the trigger. Those around us focused on the tools of destruction, while Marguerite and I talked about the unmet needs of the individuals holding the weapons.
    Marguerite spoke eloquently about the limited educational opportunities for children with mental illness, and I described the lack of housing available to young adults with serious mental health needs.
     I told Mr. Humphries of a meeting I attended last summer of the newly-formed group, Concerned Families of Fairfax County. While there, I heard older parents of adult children with mental illness plead with community leaders for affordable housing for their children.
     Taking out a copy of the notes from that meeting, I read the following:    
Families seeking housing with mental health supports for their loved ones are told their young adult must be homeless for over a year to even qualify for supported housing. This condemns our most fragile citizens to an isolated, terrifying existence as they wander the streets, fodder for predators and at increased risk of decompensation.
     Some of those scared young people are going to arm themselves for protection.
     Shouldn't we put at least as much effort into helping the individual as we do into controlling his means of destruction?